Evine Live, the Eden Prairie-based home shopping network, is probably best known for selling Invicta watches and its partnership with the Beekman Boys.
The company — in the midst of another turnaround effort to reverse declines in sales and profits — has now identified what it sees as a fertile frontier to attract new viewers: selling sex toys on TV.
While some late-night TV infomercials have featured adult-intimacy products in the last few years, “Evine After Dark” appears to mark the first time a home-shopping network has sold such products, said Evine’s chief marketing officer, Nicole Ostoya.
“We’re pioneers in this space,” Ostoya said. “I don’t believe any other shopping channels have been brave enough to tackle this subject.”
The products are featured in a two-hour show that runs once a month late at night.
Ostoya said Evine wanted to provide a place for women and men to ask questions and to learn about various products that they want in a more comfortable environment than going to an adult store.
“They [are] able to get good information in the privacy of their home,” she said. “It’s really important to us that this is not salacious. This is very sex-positive. This is about education.”
The series premiered in September. In the first three episodes, Evine tested the waters with products such as massage oils, candles and sexy lingerie. With the fourth show, it took it a step further by featuring personal massagers.
“That show did as much as the other three shows combined, and we completely sold out,” Ostoya said. “Our viewer really voted with her dollars that she was interested in this subject. And we got a ton of wonderful letters.”
She said about nine out of 10 viewers have reacted favorably to it. Some said they watched it together with their friends over a bottle of wine.
But there has been some negative feedback, too.
As word has spread about the series, the program has been drawing new viewers to the network, she added.
“It’s the old adage: Sex sells,” said Mark Argento, an analyst with Minneapolis-based Lake Street Capital Markets. “I think it’s a creative use of programming. It’s a little risky, but they probably don’t have a lot to lose in potentially alienating some viewers.”
The bigger networks — QVC and HSN — don’t have a lot of extra airtime to add new programming since they already have a full slate of products, he said. But Evine, which is the third-place player in the field, has a lot more white space where it can try out and test new things.
In the last year, Evine has managed to stabilize its profits. Company officials have said they hope to finally show sales growth this year.
“Their biggest issue now is can they drive new viewers,” Argento said. “They need to broaden the audience out a little bit.”
“Evine After Dark” is now in the midst of its second season with a third slated to launch in September.
For its most recent episode, which aired last week, it partnered with Cosmopolitan. Faye Brennan, the magazine’s deputy editor, shared results from recent readers’ quizzes and Cosmo’s tips on how to turn up the heat in the bedroom. It also included Jen Elmquist, a Twin Cities-based relationship therapist who has appeared on previous shows.
A disclaimer at the beginning of the episode, which aired at midnight central time, noted that it was rated “mature” and might not be suitable for children younger than 17. The camera then zoomed in to some candles on the set.
“We’re going to be taking you on a journey that embraces self-love, emboldens self-confidence, and allows each and every one of us the opportunity to live a fully satisfied life,” said Evine host Kimberly Wells, who was wearing a low-cut dress. “But with that, we understand we might be talking a little different language than you’re used to in traditional home shopping. But if you hang with us, what I promise you is a safe, sophisticated, classy, educational and super fun way to shop for the most intimate of items.”
In addition to various massagers, some of which they demonstrated in a bowl of water, the episode also featured models wearing lacy nightgowns that were available for sale. The host and guests didn’t use euphemisms to describe various body parts.
“We use the correct terms for things,” Ostoya said. “We think that’s part of respecting our audience that we speak very frankly.”
Last week’s show drew a mixed response on social media.
“Kudos to step out of the box,” one person wrote on Evine’s Facebook page.
Another wrote: “I am a longtime Evine shopper and am not into this concept at all. I find it creepy. Will not watch.”
While not as eyebrow-raising as its “After Dark” series, Evine has been adding other new programming of late, including a reality-esque show called “Inventor Showdown” in which people compete for the title of “top inventor.”
“ ‘After Dark’ is a perfect expression of how different we think we do things around here compared to our competition,” said Ostoya. “We really look at ourselves as the specialty store in a mall. We are not the Walmart that maybe the other competition is. We have unique products and our customer is really responding to it.”